Saturday, May 29, 2010

one laws for them, another for us

The Treasury Chief Secretary, LibDem David Laws, has been outed by his parliamentary expenses. He claimed over £40,000 rent for a second home when it was in fact his gay partner's place that he lived at.

He says

My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality.

Now, it's a shame if he felt he couldn't be open about his sexual orientation. Had some LGBT folks not stood up years ago and taken flak we could not have reached today's greatly improved levels of equality. Also, after more than a decade of openly gay Cabinet members being dealt with for their politics rather than their sexuality, nobody thinks it's a big deal. But regardless of all that, coming out is a personal choice and nobody should feel in any way obliged or pressured to do it.

However, had David Laws not claimed for that flat, nobody would have known about his sexuality. A great many MPs haven't claimed for second homes. Some of them have chosen that for honourable reasons, perhaps some others did it to hide secrets. Whatever, it certainly hasn't ended up with us thinking they're all gay.

So as an excuse it's so pathetically flimsy that it's simply implausible. The use of the desire to remain in the closet is a decoy, a device to extract sympathy for what was actually a millionaire defrauding us.

In the furious fire of the expenses scandal last year, every MP must have thought long and hard about their claims and checked whether they matched the letter of the law. Laws tries to wriggle out of his breach, saying he thinks he was inside the rules as his partner was not really a partner.

At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which in 2009 defined partner as "one of a couple ... who although not married to each-other or civil partners are living together and treat each-other as spouses".

Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses - for example we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives.

Laws has been seeing his partner for nine years, living with him when in London, and has remortgaged his other house to lend his partner money. Would you do this with someone and think they wouldn't get counted as your partner? Me neither.

Looking at the response to it all, I have to wonder why he's getting robust support from prominent LibDems calling him 'Mr Integrity' and a smidgen of it - and certainly no criticism - from David Cameron.

A couple on Job Seeker's Allowance get £28 a week less than two single people living together. If I lived with my gay partner but chose to register as two single people in order to keep my sexuality private then, like Mr Laws, I'd pocket a load of government money I wasn't entitled to.

If I did it to the tune of £40,000 (whilst advocating slashing benefits for the sick and poor), would I get called Mr Integrity and have Cameron thinking I'm a good guy?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

minus the ads

The internet is a loud and busy enough place as it is, even before we consider the intrusive adverts. Just like the way TV adverts are louder than the programmes, so online ads are more garish and flickery than the pages they're hosted on.

Most people claim not to notice internet ads. But then, most people claim to be immune to advertising.

There is a way to remove adverts from the sites you look at. It's very quick and foolproof. It's also free and there's no catch.

First, stop using Internet Explorer and switch to Firefox. It does everything IE does that's any good and more besides, and it's opensource so isn't made by sending all your money to Bill Gates. You can download it free here.

Secondly, install the AdBlock plugin. Alice walks you through how to do it here.

You'll notice a clearer mindset when going online. But more vividly, you'll be amazed what going on other people's computers looks like; a riot of garish consumerist propaganda, especially when they're on things like Youtube and Facebook. You'll then keep asking people if they mind you installing AdBlock on their machines. And then they'll thank you for it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

music is an amazing thing

"Music is an amazing thing. It doesn’t exist as a stationary object. It moves in real time and can be uplifting both to the player and the listener. The melting, trans-figurative moment, that feeling of everything being there, just for an instant, that surrender that overcomes us as players (if we’re good enough) and leads us on to the next pregnant second, patient in the knowledge that there always is, waiting in the wings, the next chance to feel this fullness and celebrate it (as it is only in the nature of art to produce it this way); to this we dedicate our lives. But it is not for us alone; it is also made for you, the listener, to feel these same feelings along with us, to participate and to also be uplifted by it."

- Keith Jarrett, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

tom robinson: glad to be grey

I recently launched a site devoted to Tom Robinson's pioneering protest song Glad To Be Gay, which made me dig out his debut album Power In The Darkness. With its crackling anger at a chaotic society of rising industrial unrest and insecurity amidst repressive government and the far right shouting loud and clear, it's uncannily appropriate for 2010.

It seems I've timed it well for a rekindling of interest in Robinson's stuff. New Statesman recently listed the top 20 political songs and there, among Strange Fruit, This Land Is Your Land and the Internationale, is Glad To Be Gay. Next month Richard Thompson's curating a Meltdown in London, and for his Evening of Political Song he's invited Tom to play.

That guest spot at Meltdown is something of a rarity. In recent years, as his career as a broadcaster and standard bearer for new music on BBC 6Music has taken off, Robinson's touring schedule has evaporated. So it's a real treat to find out that he's performing a one-off concert at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London on his 60th birthday, 1st June.

There'll be an extensive set from Tom and band taking in the full sweep of his career, with assorted guests like TV Smith. As he hurtles towards retirement age he's called the gig - what else? - Glad To Be Grey.

It's more than a pun on the signs of ageing, though. In the mid 90s he often used to say before playing Glad To Be Gay, 'in the black and white world of sexuality, I'm glad to be grey'.

Tickets are £15. You can get them online via the gig's site. If you go in person to any O2 Academy box office and pay cash, you get them without any of the ripoff booking fees.

There'll be support from several of the bands he's championed on 6Music, Chew Lips, Little Comets, Eugene McGuinness and Cosmo Jarvis. The whole shebang'll be hosted by Steve Lamacq.

There are more details to come, and they'll be put on the Glad To Be Grey site, which, even if you're not going to the gig, is worth a visit to see the video of him talking you through how to play 2-4-6-8 Motorway.

Tom Robinson birthday gig

Friday, May 14, 2010

opening the cabinet

More importantly than anything else, we are going to form a new kind of government; I hope this is the start of a new kind of politics I have always believed in. Diverse, plural, where politicians with different points of view find a way to work together
- Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Ministerial acceptance speech, 11 May 2010

At least nineteen of the 28 listed Cabinet members are millionaires. Two thirds of them are privately educated, including three old Etonians and three who went to Westminster.

A year ago David Cameron pledged

by the end of our first Parliament I want a third of all my ministers to be female

There'll have to be a serious reshuffle then, as the new Cabinet is just 14% women.

The only non-white member says it's 'humbling' to be in the Cabinet. Not surprising, given how humble a position she's got - Minister Without Portfolio, Tory party chair, making the tea and passing the biscuits.

For the first time in well over a decade, there are no openly gay Cabinet members.

Diverse, plural

But enough of who's not there, who's actually in?

The Lib Dem cabinet members are overwhelmingly from the Orange Book, a collection of writings from powerful Lib Dem top brass, setting out a concerted rightward lurch for the party, basically doing to them what the Blairites did to Labour, moving public services to private hands.

politicians with different points of view

Tom Lehrer said that satire died the moment Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize. This side of the Atlantic we just got our version of that. There seems to have been some extensive irony going on in choosing who does what in the new Cabinet. Many of them have beliefs and history that makes them totally unfit for their given post.

Oliver Letwin - Minister for Policy

After the banks led us into a financial crisis, who do we want to be in charge as Minister of Policy? How about a guy who has spent years being a director of NM Rothschild, one of the world's biggest investment banks, and indeed still holds such a position?

As long as that 'national interest' they're telling us about is the same thing as the interests of enormous global financial conglomerates, we'll be fine.

Theresa May - Home Secretary and Minister for Equalities

By tacking the Equalities brief on to the far more weighty Home Secretary, they're essentially sidelining it. And no wonder. The Tory record on equality is appalling. Right through the Labour years they opposed almost every effort to advance LGBT equality.

This post was going to be Chris Grayling's until he disgraced himself during the election campaign by saying that B&B owners should be able to refuse customers on grounds of sexual orientation.

But Theresa May's record on equality is also barbarous. She consistently voted against gay rights, wanting to retain clause 28, ban gay adoption and keep the unequal age of consent. She's still been a homophobe at the most recent opportunity, 2008's vote to say IVF treatment should have a male role model (so lesbians and single women are unworthy of parenthood).

Ken Clarke - Justice

And in case it wasn't ironic enough making a proven long-term bigot into Equalities Minister, we get this guy.

He's personally trousered millions as a board member of British American Tobacco. A major player in perhaps the only industry whose products kill customers when used properly, BAT is responsible for over five million deaths a year.

BAT has been criticised by Christian Aid for its treatment of tobacco farmers. But its record on this, and documents indicating their involvement in smuggling their products, have been glossed over by their king of Corporate Social Responsibility - Ken Clarke.

Ten years ago Vietnam, where all cigarette sales were state produced and controlled, had a large black market in Western cigarettes. Ken Clarke had plainly said that BAT acts to ensure 'that our brands will be available alongside those of our competitors in the smuggled as well as the legitimate market'.

The Vietnamese government stepped up its customs activities and stemmed the flow of contraband tobacco, cutting demand. The tobacco barons supplying that black market weren't at all pleased. Vietnamese customs officers were murdered, and in June 2001 Mr Justice himself Ken Clarke went in to negotiate with the government. Within weeks they'd agreed to let BAT open the first private tobacco factory in the country.

William Hague - Foreign Secretary

William Hague is one of the legion of unelectable twitchy right armed slapheads the Tory membership chose as leader, until the party's selection process was de-democratised and they installed a post-Blair leader in the shape of Cameron.

Hague - our representative to the other nations of the world - is notoriously hostile to the EU as a concept and an entity.

Leading the Tories to their crushing 2001 election defeat he criticised Labour as 'a government that holds Britishness cheap' and foresaw the Tories getting new votes from 'good, patriotic people who may be lifelong supporters of another party but who are not willing to watch their country being handed away.'

Andrew Lansley - Health

I've written about this guy before. He wants to remove 'traffic light' labelling of food, as giving people information about how healthy things are is 'nannying' them (ie discouraging them from buying the higher-profit junk food). He then said there's no excuse for people being overweight (even though he is).

Watch the Tories try to cut health spending on things they deem to be your own fault.

Why is obesity and tobacco addiction my own fault, yet when smug fucks go round being Tory in public, it's not their own fault that reasonable people slam their heads into walls? Inconsistency or what?

Chris Huhne - Energy and Climate Change

This one went to the Lib Dems. Chris Huhne is another Orange Book freemarketeer. I've written about Huhne before too:

He got a first from Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He made his millions as a City economist, then he became an economics journalist before he moved into politics. His time as an MEP was spent on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. Once he became an MP, he was the LibDems Treasury spokesperson. His wife was Chief Economist at the Department of Trade and Industry.

The man's an economist to the marrow, a believer in the free market above all. His deliberately crooked logic when challenged shows his adherence to the goodness of the market is faith rather than reason.

He is, then, no different from David Cameron, Gordon Brown or Melanie Phillips. They use the language of concern to distract and delay proper response to climate change because they have an over-riding need to help rich institutions get even richer.

The creatures outside looked from Clegg to Cameron, and from Cameron to Clegg, and from Clegg to Cameron again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

whoever gets in, the tories get in

It's not just a hung parliament, but an incredibly precariously hung parliament - I'm fighting the temptation to say 'well hung parliament' as nobody needs to graphically imagine Cameron and Clegg gleefully swordfighting with their cocks - and no simple deal except a Tory-LibDem coalition can win a majority.

Any party in government will still be a long way from where we could and should be. There will still be racist immigration policy, no serious climate policy, and an over-riding commitment to accelerating the great engine of our destruction, economic growth. This is before we consider the inherent problem of the nation state that, like any centralised authority, seeks to defend its own power at whatever cost before it would even consider acting in anyone else's interest.

So, in wider terms, in what we can imagine and what we're capable of and what we actually need to do to ensure a long-term just society, there is barely enough room to put a cigarette paper between the parties. But, as Johann Hari says, that cigarette paper is big enough to make a pretty fat roll-up. Certainly, the Conservatives are demonstrably further away from a fair world and would put more obstacles in the path that goes towards it.

Nobody can pretend having the Tories in power would be no different to the others. Their commitment to the rich far exceeds Labour's, and the policies Labour instituted to give a trickle of wealth from rich to poor would be reversed.

Choosing the lesser of two evils isn't a bad thing. The cliche makes it sound bad, but it's a good thing. You get less evil.
- Noam Chomsky

But still, I am scared that a Labour-Liberal coalition would actually give us the most rampant Conservative government. Alistair Darling admitted pre-election that the cuts we'll see in the coming years will be worse than anything Thatcher ever did.

So whoever's in power next will have to slash public services, raise unemployment, and generally make themselves deeply unpopular. Because a Labour-LibDem coalition needs other parties to make up a majority, they will have to make serious concessions to non-English nationalists. Top of their list will be lighter cuts for their particular nation.

The Tories will be shouting from the sidelines that they wouldn't do anything so bad, and that this is what we get for having a Frankenstein coalition government. This tension - amongst others - pulls the coalition apart, we have another general election in a few months time, the Tories get in with an actual majority and we have five years of full-throttle Tory rule.

Whereas if the Tories get in now with the LibDems, they take all the flak for the cuts, Labour regroup and get a shiny new leader, people somehow think this is not the same people that cleared the path for the neoliberal excesses that caused the recession, nor the people who waged the Iraq war, and when the Tory-LibDem coalition comes apart then there's a general election and the Tories are booted out.

It's kind of like a social vaccination, a little dose to make us generate the antibodies, a booster as we've not had Tories for 13 years and our immunity has diminished.

Cameron goes out on his arse, and (just like the BNP appear poised to do) the grassroots of the party say this experiment with a moderate leader and slick PR front was a failure and they fly their vicious true colours again, alienating themselves from the great mass of people. It'll be like they'd just carried on with Iain Duncan-Smith as leader. The fact that you can't really remember him proves my point.

Then again, all this banks on the Tory-LibDem coalition collapsing fairly quickly, even though it has a bite-size majority that could lurch on for quite some time. It also has the Tories steering the first, most savage cuts that set the direction and momentum for future ones.

It also presumes that Labour, or at least Labour-LibDem, would win a snap election. The Tories might win it instead. They might even do so having called it before we've had chance to have that promised referendum on a new voting system.

So, whoever the LibDems get into bed with, we still have the shadow of Tory rule over us for a long time to come.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

gay men are still sex offenders

In all the election kerfuffle I forgot to put a notice here about a new article I've published.

Even though gay sex is fully legalised in the UK, men who were convicted of it are still recorded as sex offenders. A gay man who had a confession beaten out of him 50 years ago is still prevented from doing volunteer work with children or vulnerable adults.

Tens of thousands of men's lives are impeded like this, losing job prospects and living with the threat of vigilante violence. The state has deleted some records when individually applied for, but it cannot be fair that we can apologise for persecuting gay men yet refuse to erase their convictions as a matter of course.

I've just published an article about it on U-Know, Gay Men are Still Sex Offenders

Thursday, May 06, 2010

every day's election day

For anyone who thinks that a general election is democracy:

And for anyone who'll be staying up tonight to watch the results come in:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

bnp in 'bullshitting again' shock

It was pretty mad that UKIP used Churchill on their leaflet for the European elections last year. But not as mad as the BNP putting Nick Griffin next to Churchill on their new leaflet.

Not that they're a hate-based party or anything, no. I mean, who isn't motivated to vote out of a desire to 'get even'?

I've recently had the singular pleasure of seeing the latest copy of the BNP's quarterly magazine Hope And Glory. I know, I know, insert your own barrely-fishy-firearmsy metaphor here.

First up, their slogan for the general election.

In the late 1980s, following Tina Turner's hit single Simply The Best, a significant percentage of small businesses in Britain (and I'm more than willing to bet this was true for the USA too) used 'simply the best' as their slogan.

Lifting someone else's slogan is pathetically unimaginative. It says you've no idea about your own identity and no imagination. And that's true even without it being as vacuous as 'simply the best'. As a practice, it's as bad as the unfunny, desperate, can-we-end-the-meeting-please organisations that agree to call themselves 'The ----- With No Name'.

So, how could the BNP beat their anti-immigration leaflets last year using images of Polish pilots defending Britain in WW2, and foreigners from stock-image sites as the hard-working British taxpayers?

How about an act that involves displaying a lack of identity and importing ideas from a black foreigner?

The magazine itself is, of course, filled with bile and twaddle. Stuff about European Human Rights being 'Islamo-Marxist'. (That's the same European Convention on Human Rights that Churchill signed us into).

One thing did catch my eye though. They have the text of a speech Griffin made to the European parliament. He says that belief in human-caused climate change is

a refusal to accept scientific reality. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 percent, since 2007.

He goes on to say this means human-induced climate change isn't happening and it is, in point of fact,

the most expensive Big Lie in human history

Elsewhere, he says we should pay people of recent foreign descent fifty grand each to leave Britain. In case this isn't offensive enough, he makes an exception for Irish people because he regards them as British. We can, he says, pay for this by stopping our spending on climate change measures.

Back on their election leaflet, they say they'll raise pensions by ending spending on adaptation measures for 'non existent Climate Change'.

Now I don't expect his opinions on climate change to make any more sense than the rest of his lip-diddly fuckwittery. You'd need to be almost as much of an cockwad as Griffin himself to start looking for evidence-based thinking in the BNP.

But still, that Arctic ice figure he cited is very specific, and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center is a body to trust. So what's the score?

Stick that figure into Google and you hit denialist blogs saying what Griffin says and that

most of the Northern Hemisphere is much colder this winter than it's been in decades - and the Southern Hemisphere is cooler, too.

Even though the truth is that

The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). This is the fourth warmest January on record.

So, what do the US National Snow and Ice Data Center actually say about the Arctic ice?

At the end of the Arctic summer, more ice cover remained this year than during the previous record-setting low years of 2007 and 2008. However, sea ice has not recovered to previous levels. September sea ice extent was the third lowest since the start of satellite records in 1979, and the past five years have seen the five lowest ice extents in the satellite record

As the Met Office explained

Global warming does not mean that each year will be warmer than the last. Natural phenomena will mean that some years will be much warmer and others cooler.

You only need to look at 1998 to see a record-breaking warm year caused by a very strong El Nino. In the last couple of years, the underlying warming is partially masked caused by a strong La Nina. Despite this, 11 of the last 13 years were the warmest ever recorded.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

another place, another face

Gordon Brown calling a bigot a bigot got him labelled as a hypocrite, someone who'll pretend to like what the voter likes when really he thinks something else. Maybe he's been coached by a certain Conservative candidate.

Several years ago I wrote about Another Place, Antony Gormley's installation of lifesize iron statues on Crosby beach in north Liverpool. It's a beautiful, evocative and unpretentious piece of public art.

It's become an iconic image for the area, and indeed the whole city.

The statues stand in the constituency of Sefton Central. The website of their Conservative candidate, the TV shopping channel presenter Debi Jones, has a picture of the statues as the banner on her home page.

Up till now, as her website makes clear, Jones has been a councillor in the area. In that capacity she was one of the most vociferous campaigners - there wasn't much competition - against the Gormley statues as, apparently, they might be a danger to shipping, or people might run out to the further ones and drown. Her old website contained allegations that the mainstream media were deliberately ignoring stories of the dangers.

It would have been merely funny. But Jones who, like the Gormley statues, has a haunting and almost human appearance, got herself on to the Planning Committee of Sefton council and tabled a successful motion to get the statues removed.

After the ensuing outcry and concerted campaign, five months later Jones was moved from the planning committee and within a week they'd voted to keep the statues.

Four years on, everyone loves them and they're part of the cultural and physical landscape, part of the area's identity. So Jones, the statues' greatest opponent, uses their image to cosy up to your vote. If only she'd cosy up to an actual statue with an incoming tide.